The 92-Year-Old Question

I’m watching my 92-year-old dad adjust to a diagnosis of congestive heart failure (he’s not too concerned), and while I want to focus on how to keep Dad comfortable and functional, an equally important question is how he managed to last so long and end up in such good shape.

Rain+Play+81Stuey Burrowes is a cerebral sort, a bench scientist with a lifelong fascination for how the living cell goes about its business. I came along when he was nearly forty, and on my watch, he was never a vigorous athlete, though he and Mom took many after dinner walks, and push-mowing an acre of grass is not to be sneezed at. He never “worked out,” and he did smoke for thirty-some years. He’s fond of alcohol, caffeine, and dairy products, and though I never saw my father drunk, I’m not sure he was particularly sober at certain points either.

sand castleDad has stratospheric levels of cholesterol (he doesn’t worry about that either, and hasn’t for decades), but excellent blood pressure and a tendency to salt his food first and ask questions later. He loves good chocolate, and he’s deucedly skinny.

Good genes are part of the explanation for why somebody who never focused on optimizing his health is outliving practically all of his contemporaries, but I think another part of the explanation lies in Dad’s career path.

From very young adulthood, Stu was encouraged to pursue his interest in science. He was wonderfully mentored, and his wife (a mere girl of 89 years) did not begrudge him periodic bouts of preoccupation even at the dinner table, long hours at the lab, and fairly frequent travel.

In short, Dad could, to a significant extent, follow his bliss. He got to do what he wanted to do, and was still doing it to some extent clear up into his 80s. When he’d “talk science,” he’d put me mind of a little kid. Put two young children together who’ve never met each other, and for the most part, they’ll be flying dragons, sailing their pirate ships, and blowing up the Death Star within minutes.

leaf jumperThat’s Dad, but his toys were the relationship between testosterone and red cell count anemia (there is one), and the flavor altering qualities of light on dairy protein. Dad was passionate about his science, and frequently and enthusiastically reinforced for indulging that passion by the decade.

I want writing romance novels to do for me what I believe science has done for my father. I also want to know what in this life—if anything—turns you into that kid who will play flying dragons for days, or the girl who will sword fight her shadow until her biceps are burning.

Or what do you think your passion would be, if you had the chance to pursue it?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $15 Amazon gift card.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

53 comments on “The 92-Year-Old Question

  1. I have a bag that has the very words “Follow Your Bliss” printed on it. I love that bag. I waited a very long time for my chance to even find my bliss. That elusive thing that makes me giggle, and just soothes me. When I am baking or cooking, whether at work or at home, I am at peace for that moment. I talk to the cakes when I put them in the oven. I thank them for behaving when they come out perfectly. I complement them on their beautiful color. If anybody heard me…I laugh out loud at my conversations with cupcakes, but I am delighted that I have found my passion, and that I am being indulged to explore it.

  2. This post made me think of my grandmother who died 3/24/13 at the wonderful age of 97. It made me wonder what her bliss was or if the she had one. We had many long talks through the years, but that wasn’t something I ever asked her. She was a no nonsense kind of woman. She never ever had anything bad to say about anyone and she made church and god a big part of her life. She loved her family with all of her heart. She was a big part of my bliss in my life. When things could have went very bad in my life, because of a hard childhood, I only had to look to her to stay on the right path. I thank god every day for having had her in my like for so many years. I am not sure what my passion is… I know that my husband, children and grandchildren make my life happy and fulfilled. Reading keeps me sane. Do I have a passion that will keep me alive until I am 97, I am not sure. But I am very happy and content with my life.

    • Mary, if asked, my mom would say her passion was “you kids,” and that would be correct, but not complete. Mom has also told me that she just wants to be useful, and this is a passion easily pursued. She prayers devoutly, daily, and trusts to her great buddy and confidante, God, to see the prayers put into motion. She takes walks and smiles at strangers, she offers the kind word whenever she can.

      Dad will be remembered for 400 scholarly publications, but Mom will be cherished for her smiles.

      • Grace, Is that your mom’s bliss or just who she is? I was going to reply along the lines of showing love,kindness, grace and mercy to everyone but the more I thought about it the more I wondered if that was really my bliss or just part of who I am.

      • It sounds like a lot of little bliss’s can be the same as one big bliss. I forgot to mention my grandmother was a nurse too. She went to nursing school when she turned 40. He kids were adults and it was her turn. She worked in Labor and Delivery for 15 years and loved every day of it.

      • I lost my dad in 1995 and my mom in 1999. They were relatively young, 77 and 71 respectively. In both their cases, paternal heredity was not in their favor, both of their moms, my grandmothers, lived longer. I came into their lives late, mom was 32 and my dad was 42, but I was very close to them and feel very blessed to have had such a good relationship.

        I think of them everyday, and I feel the same way about them that you do, Grace… My dad will be remembered for his involvement and intelligence, my mom will be remembered for her smile.

        As involved as I am in my community, my job and in the social activities that surround life in a smallish town, I still feel that I am looking for my bliss..

        Thank you for sharing yours, Grace! Your books are wonderful and make me laugh, cry and think! All important for staying connected with our “bliss”.

  3. This was a great post. It got me thinking about my maternal grandmother. She’s been sick but not deadly so, thank the lords, but she has high blood pressure. Although she’s always in good spirit she can be very moody. M y mother and aunts worry for her always and have her visit us frequently to ease her mind. I love her dearly and would never want her to leave us.
    But to answer your questions, I’m always a child at heart. I know I should act my age but it just wouldn’t be me. But the things that’ll turn me into that kid is by playing with my nieces and nephews. I can never have enough fun with them and they really do give me a great work out. As for my passion it’s art, reading, and writing. Though I’m not great at them I love them and would be devastated to not have them in my life.

    • Creative self expression is the stuff of happiness, for many of us–certainly for me. It’s that old dance like nobody’s watching admonition. I was never a crack shot pianist, but studying piano made me a well informed and passionate lover of music. Wouldn’t trade that for anything.

  4. This was a great post, my parents are now in their mid eighties and thankfully still active and healthy. My adult children keep me young and happy, but I haven’t found my bliss yet. Now that the kids are in college and getting married I guess it will be my turn. Being creative makes my heart sing, so I think I will be trying out some new things like crocheting and quilting. Maybe not exciting to everyone, but great fun for me.

    • Ann Sheiring, I didn’t start writing until my late forties, didn’t get published until my fifties. The best IS yet to be! When you’ve made a little soemthing that causes your heart to sing, post a picture for us on my profile page, please!

  5. I do enjoy language – poetry, wit, humor, entertaining books. That is a pleasure and a comfort. Not sure it is my bliss. If anything for me is like the pursuit of science was for your dad, I guess it would be ideas – reading about old ones, new ones, and thinking up my own. Not so much the carrying out of them. I’m better with theory and fantasy than reality! If something tweaks my interest button, I’m very capable of whatever scholarly or down & dirty research it takes to ferret out the whys and wherefores of it. Then I drop it like a hot rock and move on! I wouldda, shouldda, couldda been one of those think tank/ R & D people somewhere. Instead I’m an elementary teacher. I get to try my ideas sometimes on little minds…and this year I’m lucky. My kindergarten class is the most open, let’s try it, you’re funny, it’s okay, Ms. Reed, we’ll help you find it, are you all right, huggers & I love you’ers, supportive group ever. Thank God, since urban public education is such a sucky, pressure cooker about to blow up in someone’s face kinda place these days. Honestly, I think it takes a very strong person to pursuit their bliss without having a fantastic support structure – the wind beneath one’s wings. People who have that unconditional support or personal, unshakeable confidence level are able to go for it with that knowledge that no matter what, it will be ok. They are the lucky ones!

    • Mary Reed, a thousand blessings on you for your work in the classroom. You and Sabrina H. could exchange many fine emails, I’m sure.

      It strikes me that your mind is like that of your charges: energetic, endlessly curious, full of questions, and on a relentless quest to make sense of the world. Those kids are lucky to have you.

      And you make a wonderful point. While we are equipping our children to be literate, numerate, contributing members of society, we often aren’t encouraging them to HAVE dreams, much less follow them.

      And I don’t think that’s the classroom teacher’s problem to solve.

  6. I would do something to do with history but not sure what . My father is 86 and has a passion for singing ‘He belongs to a male
    Voice Choir and has done for 37 years and they perforned their annual concert last night to a packed Theatre !!!
    He is fairly fit and also has a passion for his garden which he potters in most days !

  7. Books. Not just yours, but any I liked. My ideal existence would be working as a librarian or working in a used bookstore, like Chamblin’s here in Jacksonville (it is a bibliophile’s dream!) Before. I was pregnant with my first child, my collection consisted of around 5,000 books (I had tons of Harlequins — the really old ones). I have long since pared that back to a manageable 500 or so. Counting what’s on my kindle, it is closer to about 850. That is my bliss … unless I could get paid for singing karaoke! ^_~ Happy Mother’s Day!!

  8. Thank you, Grace, for sharing your dad’s story. He must be a quite extraordinary man.
    I am not quite sure when the last time was I acted like a kid, at least not in a positive way. (I threw a tandrum at work last year, not one of my brightest moments). I do joke around with my hubby sometimes and that gets pretty silly most of the time. He makes me laugh so hard sometimes I cry or I almost suffocate because I can’t breath. I used to have those giggle attacks in school. I just can’t stop laughing. I like to laugh, but I think I don’t do it enough. At work when someone makes me really laugh hard (so that I have tears in my eyes) I can feel the stress and the tenseness fall off me. I feel better afterwards.
    One of my passions is reading and since I have not many commitments (only a husband and work), I can pursue it almost to my hearts content at home or anywhere else but I know to put it into a profession (Editor/proofreader etc) I would have to read things I may not like and then reading would become a burden. So I stick to soaking up book after book that catches my interest. I love good love novels (any kind of).

  9. My passion was life and being the best mom and wife I could be. I enjoyed every stage my four kids went through. My husband and I still do everything together. It’s heartwarming now to see the children we raised be such wonderful adults. Now I get to do things I never could before. I love reading and just started knitting. My husband and I look forward to traveling a bit. Life is good!

    • Kelly, so nice that your partner is still at your side, your children are where you can enjoy their company from time to time, and you’re still interested in new skills and new sights. VERY well done!

  10. I am not sure about a passion, but I would most surely love to quit my jobs & get my house in order, spend more time with my husband & kids,exercise more & travel a little.And have more time to read! In short, more time & more $. Lottery, anyone?

    • Sharlene, all I can tell you is that it’s a good thing to have dreams, to have something pulling your forward over the rough spots, and filling your imagination when the woes and worries want to take over. For me, the child rearing decades were exhausting, scary, fun, lonely, wonderful, and edifying.

      Each decade of my adult life has been better than the one before, and has had a greater quantity of what I enjoy, a smaller quantity of what I do not enjoy. Money is a real part of that, but so is the gift of time, and self-awareness. You’re on the road to happier–you know the direction your destination lies in, and many of us don’t even get that sorted out.

      Hang in there, and Happy Mother’s Day.

    • Sharlene, your list looks a lot like mine did for years, and now… it’s bliss, having more control over my time. I’m not quite where I want to be in that regard, but the trend is encouraging. Hang in there!

  11. “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
    Marc Anthony I don’t have a single “bliss” — too much of a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But whatever my current creative effort might involve [fiber artist & bead stringer], I’m happily immersed in it. Love your books, Grace. Thank you for hours of enjoyment.

    • My passion was music for a while, then the law (contract law, if you can believe that), then my kid, then horses, then writing. Now I’m getting all wound up about British history and Scotland… nobody says you only get one passion, do they? (I won’t listen if they do.)

  12. Here’s a fantasy – I’d like to be in some facet of the publishing business where I got to read books most of the day. Imagine, eight hours a day reading and getting paid for it!

    • Bonnie,
      Many, many editors use what they call readers–people to do the first pass through the deluge of manuscripts that pour in each day. Authors use beta readers, who are sometimes paid to sanity check a manuscript before it’s submitted.

      If I were going to be super conscientious (and had a different production schedule) I might find somebody who has never read any of my books, and ask them to read each one to assess the amount of “series assumption” that finds its way into each story.

      Other folks have turned reviewing books into a profession by virtue of selling ads on their review blogs.

      The job exists… it really does.

  13. I’m going to sound like a one horse race but the answer is in essence the same as last week – fabric – perhaps within the larger category of creativity. I can’t imagine not making things. It’s how I breath. Another artist would feel the same way about another medium. I breath with fabric. I’ll daze right out or forget what direction I’m driving in because I just had some ah ha about a fit issue or thought of a way to alter, change, evolve, create some thing. That said… writing is a very close second and I especially love writing about creativity – VBG.

    My mother’s day gift this year is an installed and functioning sink and counter top in our new laundry room so I can dye, paint, stencil, and stamp fabric. YEAH.

    HAPPY MOTHER’s DAY ! ! !

      • Let’s see… what other strange behavior do I exhibit that might match your heroine.

        This one is probably the most adaptable – I often analyze the fit (or lack thereof) of the clothing the women in line ahead of me… or walking down the street… are wearing and try to determine what could be done differently to make their garment fit or flatter better.

        I don’t shop for fabric as much as I shop for possibilities so I buy all of my fabric on sale, often in the bargain center. Fabric comes in many shapes – like a garment to be recycled. Sometimes someone is currently wearing it. Oh well. They’ll take it off soon – LOL.

        Over-dyeing, embellishing, painted details, applique, layering… all can evolve a fabric (and a look) tremendously.

  14. A lovely post and tribute to your Dad, Grace. I have so many things I enjoy and that make me happy. I paint, I read,I cook, I travel,I blog, but what makes me super happy is discovering “New”. It might be something I’ve never done before like when I snorkeled at age 50. It might be the ever changing landscape of making new friends. Or trying out a new recipe and having it be really good. Or holding a grandchild for the first time. Sounds pretty corny but this is what floats my boat.

    • Not corny, but brilliant. The brain loses function over time, and one of the things that slows that process is novelty. Learn something new. Learn something else new. Solve a problem, do a cross word. You’re onto something really smart, Dot. Keep adventuring!

  15. Wow, what a question! While my life right now pretty much revolves around my boys, I would not say it is my bliss, but I do have fun acting like a kid with them sometimes. I always wanted to write historical fiction and always thought that would be my passion but this last year or so I have noticed that reading has become something more to me than just a pastime but something that has me digging deeper into the stories. I sometimes find myself let down at the end of the book because something didn’t get resolved that I wanted to see get resolved, but when I ask someone else about it who has read the book that issue wasn’t there for them, or they didn’t see it the same way I did. I found myself at RT talking to authors about “little” things in their books that I found so profound and sometimes the author seemed surprised that I would have noticed that. I don’t know what that is really, but I have been fascinated by finding these little gems in books I read and sometimes it seems like I have read a completely different book than someone else. So I guess if I am not meant to be a writer I could see myself finding my bliss in doing something else with books, but who knows what that could be.

    • Sarah, those conversations were probably great gifts to the authors. I wrote Lady Eve’s story–nice enough book, sweet hero, happily ever after, etc–and it was on the shelves before I realized that at age sixteen, I hadn’t run off with a footman, but I’d gotten up to mischief with a guy three times my age–and it was bad mischief, my friends.

      The author is often too close to the story to see the truths it holds until the book is done, in the readers’ hands, and time has gone by–if even then.

      I think one of the best romances not yet written is Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending. I think Shakespeare zigged for political reason when he could have zagged for emotional ones.

      Many, many good writers have gotten their start from a sense of discontent with the available reading (as did I). The perspective you have as a result of the children you’re raising, your faith journey, your background, is absolutely unique. At the very least, keep a journal, and if you’re more ambitious, then start “once upon a time”ing.

      What if? is another writer’s friend. What if Sarah wrote a story, and it sold well, and then she wrote another?

  16. My passion is reading books and everything about books. I think as long as I can read and enjoy my books, I’ll be good. I am an administrative assistant and I am really good with all the little details, so give me a project that is full of those and I’m happy. I get immersed in the details and before you know it the project is finished or at least the day is over.

    • Barbara, I knew I was a published author when… an octogenarian reader from New Zealand said, “I hope I live long enough to read your next book.”

      I’ll be that was with writing–I hope I live long enough to write just one more book… AND reading.

  17. I recently decided to try my hand at writing. I have always wanted to but always had a reason why I couldn’t or shouldn’t. I love reading a story and getting lost in it, feeling part of it, like an extra character even though I am not on the pages. I have many ideas and stories in my heart and in head. Getting them out isn’t too hard but editing and revising are hard. I haven’t done any college yet and cannot start for a couple more years due to finances and refusing to take out a loan for it. So I have been researching anything and everything that I think may go into one of my stories. I am keep files for each story. I have very basic outlines for many stories and am doing more each month. I have found that I love this part of the writing! I love being organized and informed when I start writing, it helps it flow without stress. I never saw myself as a researcher but it is very rewarding and fun!

    • Kylan, I believe in the benefits of higher education for those who want them, BUT I took all of one English class in college. You don’t need college to become a skilled writer. I strongly suspect you DO need to be a voracious reader, and you certainly are.

      If you want to learn to write, WRITE. Voltaire said nobody learns to write well quickly, and I think he was correct. It’s a craft, and you no sooner catch on to one part of it (use strong verbs!), then you become aware of another part that needs attention (surprise the reader!). When you get THAT squared away, then behind door number three you find more work to (get the reader’s empathy flowing on page one!), and so on it goes… I’m probably writing my 30th love story, and still very much learning how to write.
      Come on in, the water’s fine!

  18. My mom is 90 and although she didn’t pursue any dreams, she’s always been very active, eats very healthy (grew up on a farm, never smoked or drank and there are those genes). Her dad lived to 89 and mom 83 but I think she died more of a broken heart once my grandfather passed. My mom has a sister who is 89 and a brother who is 91. I like the idea of pursuing your dreams for a long life a lot better. My parents were very practical people so I was taught to get a job and work hard. I would have loved to have been in the arts – especially sketching and painting. I’m always told it’s never too late, but I never had the confidence or drive, I guess. My youngest has the talent and I did push for both girls to do what they enjoyed and somehow it will work out. I’m happy to say that so far it’s working out that way. They may never be rich, but they enjoy what they do!

    • Jeanne–c’mon, if I can pursue publication in my fifties, you can take an art class. Just one little class, just TRY it… you might love it, and you will surely enjoy some parts of it.

      Can I get an Amen?

  19. My one passion would be writing a top nothch romance novel. That would be a real treat to one of the ones like Brace Burrowes or Sabrina Jeffries.

    • Belinda, you already have everything you need to achieve that dream. You have a computer, you have some authors whose books you like, and you have the impulse to start writing…..

      So? Once upon a time….

  20. I am very fortunate to have found my bliss. I am a library director. I spend my days trying to find better ways for people to feed their reading habit and ways to lure more people to become readers.

    I came to my career late. I finished my library degree when I was 50. So many people asked me why I was starting a job at the time many are thinking of retiring. My only response was that I was going to work at least 15 more years and I wanted it to be something that mattered. Every time someone comes in to tell me they enjoyed a new author,it makes it worthwhile. Bliss is even better when you can help someone else in the process.

    • Sandi, your example is instructive. You tried this, that and the other, and the picture of bliss became clear to you somewhat later than your high school graduation.

      Why do we think the dreams we have at eighteen are supposed to sustain us for the remaining 80 years of our lives? Cripes, at eighteen I thought I was going into medical school when a) I can’t hack the math, and b) I don’t like hospitals.


    • Gail, if I go for too long without making a journal entry, it’s worse than if I can’t find my toothbrush. And who cares what we put in our journals? They’re OUR journals.

  21. Hmmm. If I could and were physically able, I would go on fossil hunting expeditions whereever the fossils were. When not in the field, I would study and reconstruct fossils, and try to put together the clues about the environment that would produce such an animal. Did you ever wonder why insects in prehistoric times got so big?

    As it is, I hunt marine fossils in cool creeks in the summer time. One creek I love has high banks with maidenhair ferns growing out of the banks and at times, the loveliest blue butterflies. Frequently you find dragonfly larvae, which look like alien creatures.

    Another favorite creek is one whose bottom is paved with 60 million year old shells, most nearly the size of your palm. It is shady, green, cool and the creek walls are mossy. I like to stand on that ancient ocean bottom far inland and imagine how it used to be.

    I don’t get to go too often, but those memories are precious treasure and make me smile at my desk.

    • Pam, one of the places I want to visit is Great Basin National Park. I cannot imagine that all that dessert was sea floor, that we have a huge patch of the West where rainfall will never reach the sea. And I didn’t know that bristle cone pine trees can live for FIVE THOUSAND YEARS!

      Shall we plan a field trip? Maybe bring along some good books to read?

  22. Grace, thank you so much for this post. I just lost both my parents this holiday season after caring for them the last 4 years. I was blessed to be able to be their “Business Managers” as my dear Momma liked to call me. Momma passed Nov 12 after declining with multiple falls and strokes. Daddy passed 1 week after her funeral, Dec 8th. He was a gentleman to the end with his dementia and waited for his dear wife to go first even not living together anymore because of their health issues. Momma’s bliss was her children, she sacrificed everything for us. It was a privilege to care for her at the end. She was my best friend and I miss her. Daddy loved to bowl and help others find passion in his sport. We dressed him in his bowling shirt for his funeral. You ask me what my passion is. I’m not sure right now as I’m regrouping after my life change. I’m up to my neck in emptying a home of 60 years and 2 estates. At my heart when I had leisure time I am a crafter. I love to create. I’ve used many mediums through my life: sewing, textiles, knitting/crocheting, counted cross stitch, painting, beads, scrapbooking and computer desk-top publishing. I’ll come back to that as I again find my passion.

    • My sister quoted me a statistic, something like 80 percent of spouses married more than fifty years die within a year of each other. That, to me, says in a nutshell what the power of love is–it keeps us going far beyond what medical science can do for us.

      And they both loved you, dearly, so you’re entitled to take your time finding the “new normal.” As aggravating and tedious as it is, the estate settlement process ensures we don’t hurry through our grief.

      My guess is that your crafting will eventually take on new momentum, and even acquire a depth of satisfaction for you it didn’t have previously. I believe that what we’re feeling finds its way into what we create, and what you have a great capacity for is love.